The New Economy has Destroyed Middle-Class Values

One of these values is the career. The young are no longer interested in one, and the those that have persevered, and accumulated huge college loans, are not happy with the result. They are exploited almost as badly as the factory workers were at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. They are well-paid, by comparison, but they are only part of the machinery, which is constantly being improved. As in the Red Queen’s world, they have to run to stay in one place.

They are only valued for what they can produce. As one software manager from Microsoft once told me: “They have to produce a lot of high-quality work.” She added that she had demanded that they work on Saturdays, to meet a current crisis. This is is not uncommon in the software world; they sometimes work for days at a time with no sleep, right through the holidays. As another friend told me: “The things you have to do in a startup shorten your life”. After devoting their lives to the company, they get replaced by younger blood when they can no longer keep up the pace. They can always find someone who is smarter and harder-working than they are. To put it bluntly: you gotta kiss ass and eat shit. But I see I have digressed.

I should define some terms. In the title I spoke of the new economy, one that is dominated by the financial industry instead of manufacturing. It is also devoted to a free market, with no social controls of any kind. In other words neoliberalism, but I hesitate to use that term because Americans have no idea what it means—and refuse to acknowledge its existence.

In America, we also speak of the middle-class. In Europe this is referred to in French: the bourgeoisie. Americans are uncomfortable with the term; it is too high-brow for them, and their plain ways of thinking.

I defined these terms so you could understand the following excerpts from False Dawn, by John Gray, a professor at the London School of Economics, where George Soros studied too. We like to think of George as one of our own, but he most definitely is not; he is just another shark swimming where the feeding is best—but one with keen intellectual interests.

To read the following, you will have tolerate some academic language, of the British variety. But it won’t kill you. Grit your teeth, and plow on.

Amongst the human needs that free markets neglect are the needs for security and social identity that used to be met by the vocational structures of bourgeois society. A contradiction has emerged between the preconditions of an intact bourgeois civilization and the imperatives of global capitalism. The chronic insecurities of late modern capitalism, especially it most virulent free-market variants, corrode some of the central institutions and values of bourgeois life.

The most notable of these social institutions may be that of the career. In traditional bourgeois societies, most middle-class people could reasonably expect to spend their working lives in a single vocation. Few can now harbor any such hope. (Some American career councilors even recommend a career change every six years. My note.) The deeper effect of economic insecurity is to make the very idea of a career redundant.

In the lives of a working majority, an old-fashioned career in which professional seniority tracks the normal life cycle is barely a memory. The post-war trend to embourgeoisment is being reversed, and working people are being in some degree re-proletarianized.

Although de-bourgeoisification may have advanced furthest in the US, economic insecurity is increasing in nearly all the world’s economies. This is partly a side-effect of global free markets, whose workings mimic Gresham’s Law (which states that bad money drives out good) by making socially responsible varieties of capitalism progressively less sustainable. World-wide mobility of capital and production triggers a “race to the bottom” in which the more humane capitalist economies are compelled to deregulate and trim back taxes and welfare provisions.

Gray is saying some dynamite stuff here. It’s too bad we don’t read him—especially Obama’s economic advisors. If they really understood him, they might really save America—instead of just pretending to.

The New Global Power Structure

Marshall McLuhan once talked of the Global Village that would be caused by television. He missed this one by a mile. It is true that every shack in the world, even if it only has a dirt floor, now has a TV in it. People are desperate to become part of this new world – as consumers of the latest thing: usually the latest melodrama.

They have no awareness of the larger world, but it is there, making TV programs all over the world similar – especially the commercials. The peoples of the world are becoming homogenized and turned into consumers without their being aware of it. They can see a new power structure developing and they want to be part of it. They don’t want to be left out in the cold, with most of the world’s unfortunates.

The Internet has provided the final solution: a universal medium of control, which is enabling a totalitarian, consumerist culture ruled by a global power structure. Power has become all-important, now that it has been amplified by the Net. Values such as social justice have no place in this brave new world.

“You are crazy!” You may be saying. “There is no global power structure. You are just imagining things to make yourself feel important.” I may be crazy, but things like this are real enough. Not everything that is real can be found underneath a chair. The most important things, like ideas, are invisible. And our technologies, beginning with our language, which changed everything – for us, at least.

The technology that created the modern world was the printing press. And the technology that ended it is the Internet. That sums it up.

The Internet created global connectivity, which enabled global control – by the business world. Internet enthusiasts, a feeble-minded bunch, in my estimation, thought it would enable social justice instead. But the business world beat them to the draw.

Its employees, that is nearly everyone, have been quick to adapt and leave modernity – and abandon themselves, as individuals.

2020 Vision: Why you won’t recognize the ‘Net in 10 years

Network World

I have been saying the government should be doing some basic research to keep our lead in programming technologies. It looks like it is ahead of me. The National Science Foundation is designing a new Internet – and really doing it right.

Their goal is audacious: To create an Internet without so many security breaches, with better trust and built-in identity management. Researchers are trying to build an Internet that’s more reliable, higher performing and better able to manage exabytes of content.

The research comes at a critical juncture for the Internet, which is now so closely intertwined with the global economy that its failure is inconceivable. As more critical infrastructure — such as the banking system, the electric grid and government-to-citizen communications — migrate to the Internet, there’s a consensus that the network needs an overhaul.
At the heart of all of this research is a desire to make the Internet more secure.

I’m surprised the nation’s conservatives let them get away with all this government planning. They would be happy to go back to using smoke signals – secure or not.

The Destruction of the Self

Of all the events in our destructive time this is the most serious – and also the easiest and the most invisible. No one notices it is happening, because they are obsessed by events outside themselves, not events inside themselves. Gradually, they come to feel that they, as persons, are inferior to the much larger events outside them.

This is the exact opposite of the sequence at the beginning of the modern world: where the individual became important for the first time in history, and where everything depended on him, his awareness of what was going on, and his actions – especially politically. People in the post-modern world, by contrast, are apolitical – it not apathetic.

What are these outside spectacular events? Boorstin, in his book The Image puts it well:
In this book I describe the world of our making; how we have used our wealth, our literacy, and our progress, to create a thicket of unreality which stands before us and the facts of life. I recount historical forces which have given us the unprecedented opportunity do deceive ourselves and befog our experience.

Of course, American has provided the landscape and has given us the opportunity for this feat of national self-hypnosis. But each of us individually provides the market and the demand for the illusions which flood our experience.

We want and believe these illusions because we suffer from extravagant expectations. We expect too much of the world. Our expectations are extravagant in the precise dictionary sense of the word – “going beyond the limits of reason or moderation”. They are excessive.

The making of the illusions which flood our experience has become the business of America, some of its most honest and most necessary and most respectable business. I am thinking not only of advertising and public relations and political rhetoric, but of all the activities which purport to inform and comfort and improve and educate and elevate us: the work of our best journalists, our most enterprising book publishers, our most energetic manufacturers and merchandisers, our most successful entertainers, our best guides for foreign travel, and our most influential leaders in foreign relations. Our every effort to satisfy our extravagant expectations simply makes them more extravagant and makes our more attractive. The story of the making of our illusions – “the news behind the news” – has become the most appealing news of the world.

We tyrannize and frustrate ourselves by expecting more than the world can give us or than what we can make of the world. We demand that everyone that talks to us, or writes for us, or takes pictures for us, or makes merchandise for us, should live in our world of extravagant expectations. We expect this even of the people of foreign countries. We have become so used to our illusions we mistake them for reality. And we demand that there be always more of them, bigger and better and more vivid. They are the world of our making: the world of the image.
What happened to the self in all this? It disappeared. We were looking out there so hard, we lost our ability to look in here – and became a stranger to ourselves and the ordinary world.

Frances Perkins

From Wikipedia:

Frances Perkins (born Fannie Coralie Davies, (April 10, 1880[1] – May 14, 1965) was the U.S. Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945, and thefirst woman appointed to the U.S. Cabinet. As a loyal supporter of her friend, Franklin D. Roosevelt, she helped pull the labor movement into the New Deal coalition.

I heard about her from listening to Nothing to Fear, about the first 100 days of FDR’s administration – which has been an educational experience. Perkins was a social reformer, in a country that badly needed reforming. She was associated with a number of settlement houses in Chicago and New York City – such as Hull House.

In those days, being a social worker was a noble calling, requiring considerable personal sacrifice. Now that America has swung to the right, they are looked on with disfavor, and barely tolerated.

America is collapsing from the inside out

Any society is constructed on an internal framework of beliefs, skills, and ideas. These shape and support the external structure. If this internal infrastructure is damaged, the building has nothing left to support it, and will not last long.

But this is not immediately obvious from the outside, and those living in it may feel it is stronger than ever, and will last forever. This attitude is a sure sign that the end is approaching. I remember visiting Great Britain, when the people were still in shock, because the British Empire was no more. They went from being the most powerful and richest country in the world to practically nothing.

For those in touch with what was really going on, this was no surprise. But they were a small minority. Most did not have a clue, and only believed what everyone else believed.

This did not happen overnight, it started with WWI, but WWII finished it off – and installed a new empire, the American one. In much the same way, the Cold War and the whole series of wars that followed it, such as Iraq, are finishing off America. Of course this not the only thing wrong: the economy, which has its own infrastructure, is inadequate also.

But that is not all, the American economy is completely integrated with the global economy. And American values have become global values. As a result, the whole world is in big trouble. In little Costa Rica people feel like the ground has been pulled out from underneath them, like they are in an earthquake that will not go away.

Sonic Pollution in Costa Rica

Yes, there is such thing, believe it or not. My landlord (though his lawyer) sued the neighborhood bar about this in the municipal court in Cartago, the county seat. The bar has immediately quieted down, much to my relief.

Nothing happens during the last two weeks of any year – everyone takes a vacation – except for the bars and the whores in the coffee-picking areas, of course, who do a brisk business. Overloaded trucks are everywhere, taking the coffee cherries to be processed.  Many of the pickers are illegal Nicas, not the highest-class kind of people. But nobody complains because they need pickers desperately. Instead of shade-grown coffee, which produces a better product, the newer varieties are sun-tolerant and produce more cherries – but also need more chemicals and fertilizer – in other words, have higher costs. The higher supply, as always, means lower prices – so the typical coffee farmer is on a treadmill, going nowhere.

Specialty farms, such as Cafe Christina, which is owned by an American family only a short distance away, who take frequent tours through their farm, explaining their philosophy, and selling directly on the Internet, by contrast, are doing well.

Quality coffee is a gringo concept, not easily understood by Latinos. The worst coffee I have ever had was in Orosi, in the heart of the coffee belt. They judge it by how heavily it is advertised, or how cheap it is, not by how it tastes.